Feministe Feedback: Un-Teaching Gendered Language

A reader writes in:

I’m Spanish, and I’m a trainee High School teacher in Spain. Spanish is a language with two grammatical genders: male and female, and when it applies to inanimate objects there isn’t any logic to it. Tables and chairs are female. Glasses and dishes are male. “Person”, “people” and “humankind” are female.

I teach a class of pre-University students (17-18 year-olds) who have to prepare for the pre-university exam. One of the tasks in this exam is a composition, so I have given as homework, and corrected, two compositions already. I have noticed a great tendency to treat English words like “Government” and “people” as male, and also to use “men” as a synonym of people. In general, it doesn’t sound rethorical (“A step for a man……”) but clumsy.

I need to tell them “don’t say man when you mean people” and I don’t know if I should pretend that this is all a question of language, and not at all of politics, in order to get the message accross better. In theory, I should encourage them to reject discrimination and think critically. In reality, I don’t know if I can afford to be known as “the feminist one, who will correct all my homework with a feminist bias / who is crazy / who is weird / who favours the girls / etc etc etc”

Any suggestions about what to do?


43 comments for “Feministe Feedback: Un-Teaching Gendered Language

  1. Bernard
    November 1, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    After reading your “question” I wonder if you are a “Teacher”. Clearly you are afraid of what “intrinsicly” you know what must be done. Outsiders view of you matters more to you than doing work you “know” needs to be done.

  2. November 1, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    I think a short discussion – five minutes or less – on the social/political reasons why they’re compelled to use male nouns will be useful to them, and won’t make them feel like you’re indoctrinating them or anything. Yes, one or two students might start calling you the feminist one, but that really can’t be helped. One of my students wrote in his evaluation that I was “obsessed with animal rights and we talked about it in every class” because two of the essays in their textbook (assigned by the department) dealt with animal rights. For every student who rolls their eyes, though, you’ll get one who has that “ah ha!” moment, and five who won’t really care.

  3. brainiac9
    November 1, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    If it’s a language class being taught, I think it’s important to start with language issues (i.e. “this phasing some of you are using sounds clumsy, here’s why”), but that doesn’t mean that the discussion of masculine/feminine language can’t be a jumping off point for feminist discussion. I know a few Francophones who don’t see the masculine/feminine thing as being particularly political in French, but understand that because English doesn’t have grammatical genders, making use of pseudo-grammatical-gender in English can have unintended consequences in how they’re understood. (Hopefully that all makes sense, I haven’t had my caffeine today)

  4. bleh
    November 1, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    I always use the term ‘freshpeople” rather than freshmen. When my students (invariably) ask why, I tell them that I like to be accurate and specific in my speech. Not all first year students (my other noun) are men, thus freshpeople. It seems you could do the same thing. Otherwise, I like the first poster’s suggestion of asking *them* why they frame people or government as male…

  5. squirrely
    November 1, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    I think the statement “don’t say men when you mean people” is strong enough to stand on it’s own. It’s also the current academic standard. If you are preparing these kids for college level work, they will need to learn how to write without using the “men=generic human” format, except when referring to or quoting historical statements. If you don’t correct them now, someone else will have to do it later.

    I think we are at the point where you can teach them that this is no longer a debate – it’s just the way it is. The use of “mankind” is simply outdated.

    As for assigning male pronouns to things like politics and government, I think you can point out their language mistakes and then ask them why they think this happens. With any luck (and just a little bit of guidance) they’ll come up with the answer. themselves.

  6. November 1, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    It is a sad state of affairs when children are perceived as “punishments” and burdens. “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” –Mother Teresa

  7. demolitionwoman
    November 1, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    I’m afraid I have no suggestions, but this post brings up something I’ve been really wanting to know lately:

    In places where the language spoken is gendered, what are feminist and queer activists doing with language? I’d really love to hear from folks in those places…

  8. Nia
    November 1, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Demolitionwoman, in Spain you have two options with the problem of “masculine plural = neutral plural”.

    One: take a word like “ciudadanos” (citizens, male, or neutral). Say “ciudadanos y ciudadanas” = “Citizen-ers and Citizen-esses”. This is very clumsy.

    Two: Look for a synonym that is not gendered. Citizens? “La ciudadanía”, “The Citizenship”. Spaniards? “El pueblo español”, “Spanish People”. Students? “El alumnado, “The studentship”.

    A second question is the creative use of words that refer to professions, which in theory just needs to add a final A. For example, “doctor” is médico. In traditional Spanish, the word médica exists, as an adjective only. It sounds odd to say “Mi médica me ha mandado esta pastilla” (My female doctor has told me to take this pill). In most cases, it is a question of what sounds nice. For example, no one would call a woman “La Ministro” o “La Presidente”, but “La Ministra” and “La Presidenta”. But “jueza” (the female judge) sounds bad and most people would say “la juez”.

  9. November 1, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    I think it’s fine to tell them “Don’t say ‘men’ when you mean ‘people’ because it’s an English idiom that doesn’t really work in Spanish. And, of course, not all people are men.” Accurate, grammatically relevant, not so political or preachy that students will think it’s worth complaining about.

    As for giving traditionally male institutions masculine grammatical gender, I think you should just have a brief “reminder” talk one class. “Here are some of the nouns I commonly see people confusing the gender of. Remember, there’s no real logic to grammatical gender, so make sure to check genders in your dictionary rather than trying to puzzle it out yourself. Also, you may want to consider whether there’s some association you’re making between the concepts and one gender or the other, so you can train yourself not to think that way and prevent similar mistakes in the future. For example, I know most politicians are men, but there’s nothing about the abstract concept of ‘government’ that is inherently masculine.”

    That way you’ve addressed the grammar problems and planted the seeds of why gendered language is bad without getting overtly lecture-y on it. That might get a few students thinking without sending your less-enlightened students whining to your department head.

  10. Anna
    November 1, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    In Chinese, the character for “family name”, is composed of the character for woman plus the character for birth. My professor help us students memorize the characters by giving the backgrounds of their development. China started out as a matriarchy, with names and such being passed on from the mothers, so that is why we use the woman and birth characters for surname.

    Is there a similar, historical reason for using the feminine form for person/people/mankind, that you could use, while at the same time illuminating somewhat of the background politics and history?

  11. the person who asked the question
    November 1, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    I forgot to say, when I asked this question, that my subject is English as a Foreign Language. It sounds like the people answering my question took that for granted anyway. Thanks for your help.

    Bernard, the first line of my question says “trainee teacher”. I’m certainly no Teacher with a capital T. That is why I don’t assume I have all the answers and I ask for help when I think I need it.

  12. November 1, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    How interesting that your students do that. I would probably explain that they’re “over-translating”, so to speak, meaning that they’re translating not just the meaning of the words they’re using, but also the way particular words are used for more than their literal meanings. I’d explain that different cultures and different societies create different associations with words, and that they’re taking something that happens in English and assuming it happens in Spanish when it actually doesn’t. Because you’re bringing up the concept of culture influencing language, you could make it clear that it’s not just the natural state of things for men to equal the neutral or general gender. You could even compare when English treats men as neutral and when Spanish does. None of that would require making moral judgments on gendered language, so it would be hard to complain that you were overly political. I would add in that the English way of using men to mean people in general is going out of style though, both for their own good in future writing and to keep from seeming *too* nonchalant about that kind of thing.

    demolitionwoman, I don’t know much, but I have heard that some people in Spain have started teaching that you should give gender to a group based on the majority rather than on the rule that one masculine thing makes the whole group masculine. Also, in France they’ve gotten people to start using the feminine article with words for certain professions that used to be masculine even when women held them. I don’t know how queer people would be able to break down the basic m/f system, though.

  13. November 1, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I love this post. I have been thinking a lot lately about the importance of the language we use. I recently had an email war with a self-proclaimed Objectivist about this very issue. I recently attended a lecture sponsored by the Ayn Rand Objectivist society at my university. The lecturer used the masculine pronouns EVERYWHERE, saying “businessmen” about 100 times in a row. That is an Ayn Rand flaw- she used the male pronoun exclusively. When I sent an email to the student organizer criticizing this, HE flipped out and went on a huge diatribe about how the pronouns don’t matter and I should concern myself with more important things. We had an email war back and forth for a couple days, until I finally gave up on the loser.

    Anyway, I think language absolutely matters and it is unfortunate we have gender built into so many of our languages, particularly Spanish with masculine and feminine endings. It is an extension of this dualism that we have been trapped in for some time. It would be nice to completely revamp all language to use gender-neutral terms.

    I think it is great that this teacher is emphasizing this point.

  14. Bach-us
    November 1, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Doesn’t the MLA handbook have a note on this? Would that be useful to your students? Certainly, citing a source like that would serve you well.

  15. lilacsigil
    November 1, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Rather than tell them it’s “wrong”, and if you’re worried about opposition to feminist principles, just truthfully tell them that it’s very old-fashioned and they probably don’t want to sound like they’re seventy years old!

  16. November 1, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    I don’t think this is the sort of thing where it’s necessary to bring up sociopolitical implications, even though it could be quite a learning experience. Perhaps you can have your students present on a cultural aspect or influential figure of the United States or England (or other English-speaking nation). You can give them a list of topics, and various influential women and the movements they were/are a part of can be on that list.

    You can tell your class that it’s grammatically incorrect to say “men” when you mean “people.” That’s the truth, and it doesn’t make the students feel like they did something wrong or bad. It sounds like your students are translating things literally, which doesn’t really work out most of the time. If you come across words like “policeman,” say that policemen are male, policewomen are female, and police officers can be either. It would be nice if your students would then ask why this is, in which case you’d answer them, but you don’t have to be the first to explain gender in English-speaking countries.

    Do students in non-English-speaking countries learn American English or British English? Or a little bit of both? I ask because I wonder what teachers do about distinguishing races and ethinicties. There are no “African Americans” per se anywhere else but America, and there are some who would prefer being called African American as opposed to Black. I expect that’s something students would have to learn so that they don’t offend anybody and think that what’s okay to say in England or Australia is okay to say in the US.

  17. November 1, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Okay, I’m kind of astonished that Bernard’s ad hominem made it through the mod queue. Just in case anyone’s unclear on this – there are very real consequences for educators who are perceived by their students or colleagues as unpopular or subversive.

  18. Ellie
    November 1, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    I just wanted to say that I agree with what Colleen said. This seems to be the most logical and best way to put it forth to your class. Good luck!

  19. November 2, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Oh whoops, I was going from English to Spanish instead of vice versa, and still working on my comment when you posted yours. Sorry!

  20. karak
    November 2, 2008 at 1:54 am

    Just write “gender-neutral is more professional sounding.” That’s the required langauge for psychology majors, anyway. We lose points for gendered language.

  21. Nicole
    November 2, 2008 at 3:23 am

    I do know that gender can be a very difficult concept for speakers of English to master when they learn another language. I did not realize that it could be equally difficult to undo those genders when speakers of another language are learning English.

    To demolitionwoman’s comment above: In German there are three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. Something that has always bothered me, and seems to bother a lot of Germans, is that the gender for the word “girl” is neuter, when the gender for the word “boy” is masculine. Therefore, if you’re talking about a girl in a sentence, but instead of saying “the girl” you want to say “she,” you end up using the word “it” for girl instead since the gender for girl is neutral. I think there have been movements in Germany to try to get this changed and I know that some Germans use the feminine gender for “girl,” but as of yet it has not taken hold. I hope that made sense.

    My German never seems to come out right because I refer to everything as “it” instead of “she” or “he” when I’m talking about inanimate objects.

  22. November 2, 2008 at 3:39 am

    I always use the term ‘freshpeople” rather than freshmen. When my students (invariably) ask why, I tell them that I like to be accurate and specific in my speech.

    What about “freshers”? Freshpeople seems a bit, I don’t know, earnest (and mockable by your opponents) IMHO.

  23. Katherine
    November 2, 2008 at 5:38 am

    What Helen said. Sorry to derail, but “freshpeople” is incredibly awkward. “Fresher” is the word used in the UK now, and that works perfectly well, and better than” freshman/men” in some cases.

  24. GA
    November 2, 2008 at 5:59 am

    Do students in non-English-speaking countries learn American English or British English? Or a little bit of both? I ask because I wonder what teachers do about distinguishing races and ethinicties.

    I was taught the British English for the first four years I studied the language and the next six years it was a mostly American English but also British and a bit of Australian. So now I use the British spelling but my pronounciation is mostly American. Races and ethnicities weren’t taught at all, only nationalities: “Sweden” is for the country, “Swede” is the person. The people from the US were simply Americans, no races or ethnicities. I didn’t come across the American way of using ethnic terms like “Italian-American” or “African-American” until I started reading English magazines. I speak also German and Swedish in addition to my first language and none of these languages, or the countries these languages are spoken in, have anything similar to the American terms. So I think for the most European people at least, ethnical or racial terms that are not also terms for nationality, are a bit foreign.

  25. November 2, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Here in France words are masculine or feminine, as a rule, and there is no logic whatsoever to it. To follow the example, “politics” is female, while “government” is male.
    And to whoever said they’re feminizing professions-that really hasn’t caught on at all. There’s a female for doctor but everyone just says “le docteur” (so, the doctor using a male gender) because it’s just such an awkward word.
    Most words ending in an “e” that sound okay if you put “la” in front, (so essentially feminizing them) have caught on, though, like “ministre”(minister), “maire”(mayor) “présidente”(president) députée (member of parliament) etcetera.
    Throughout my years in school the macho side of the French language has often been pointed out to us by male and female teachers alike, but these days I’m not sure of the influence it actually has.
    It’s been pointed out; there’s actually an internet “joke” doing the rounds with words and their female equivalents which are unvariably a synonym for a whore, but none of this is news.
    I think that the main problem with a gender-based language is that it’s impossible to change the gender of a word. It just sounds wrong and foreign-and for a foreigner it’s impossible to learn, my British mother has been here for a very long time and she still gets genders wrong- and here in France there’s also a strong movement to preserve the “purity” of the language because they’re all paranoid about English taking over the world.

  26. Jady
    November 2, 2008 at 8:30 am

    i believe that thinking critically is one of the most important tools one can have, and the fact that you acknowledge these differences and are concerned enough to attempt to pass it on to the children you are responsible, is the sign of a good critical thinker. now if only our answers could change the gendered articles of those languages.

    gender seems to be very socially prescribed yet still so vastly relative, which makes it hard to grab by the ears and address when it comes to the acknowledgment of these biased existences and the simultaneous quest to construct our individual revisions (in the meanwhile). why are countries “she” and governments “he”? what about Mother Nature and Father Time? or do we steer more towards an androgynous configuration where nouns are ‘they, them, it’ and the words lose their perceived penises and vaginas, just to meet on a neutral ground?
    so many questions, yet it’s so great to know that others are asking…

    in response to nicole:
    I’ve been experiencing the exact same issues in my german studies, and the old-school linguistic response to my queries is ‘that’s how things just are for now’. i’m not 100% proficient in the language, but well aware enough to have it bother me and to seek some sort of personal resolution. and when asked ‘who’ came up with the gender of articles, the answer is ‘it’s always been like that’ (even though i’m sure it predominantly, if not completely, consists(ed) of men). it’s frustrating and interesting at the same time, but just as long as we are asking…
    because answers are not always the answer.

  27. ValeDeOro
    November 2, 2008 at 9:00 am

    Just a note on the German neutral gender for girl.
    Girl is neutral in German for historical questions. Some centuries ago, the correct word for young woman was “Maid” which is female (die Maid). Girls were referred to as “Maidchen”, literally meaning “little young woman”, as “-chen” is the German way to build the diminutive (like using -ita/-ito in Spanish). Whenever adding a -chen however, the word turns neutral in terms of gender, independlty of its former gender. So the girl, being a little young women became “das Maidchen”, later evolving into “das Mädchen”. And the neutral gender just stayed.
    I always thought it very interesting that girls were considered women-in-the-making, while boys (der Junge) have a masculine word to refer to them.

  28. November 2, 2008 at 11:38 am

    I’m an English-teacher in training who knows Spanish pretty well, and I’m with Girl Detective and judgesnineteen. But you’re reader shouldn’t worry about pretending that this is a language issue; it is a language issue. The nature of English grammar is that gendered pronoun use is almost always literal, so people tend to see the odd non-literal use through that lens.

    Furthermore, some of the things people say in Spanish but not English are things we don’t say simply because they sound wrong, not out of political correctness. It just sounds wrong to use “kings” to refer to a king and queen, but this is normal in Spanish. People who translate “Los Reyes Catolicos” (Isabella and Ferdinand) as “The Catholic Kings” are straight-up mistranslating, or as judgesnineteen said, overtranslating.

  29. Educator
    November 2, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    It is hopeful to hear that critical thinkers such as yourself are choosing to become educators. Clearly, Bernard is not a teacher and does not understand the pressure to conform within an educational system that has gone to the extreme of re-writing history. Literally in the text books. You have some wonderful ideas already to begin introducing thought and consideration to everyday language that I would guess your students take for granted. Language is political, so I actually think trying to draw a line is somewhat of a false separation. Keep doing your good work, keep challenging, keep questioning. You have to survive within the very institution you want to change, which is not an easy task. The state of our educational system is a mess, and it is refreshing to know teachers like you are out there!!!

  30. November 2, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Froufrou – those were the professions I was thinking of (ministre, etc).

    ValedeOro – isn’t it weird, too, that a boy is der Junge but a girl isn’t die Junge? Isn’t that just an adjective being used as a noun?

    In German, I’ve seen a capital letter used the way we would use a slash or paretheses – ‘in’ makes a noun feminine, so StudentInnen means male and female students. It doesn’t solve the problem of the feminine version being the marked version, though. I’m not sure if we can really succeed in intentionally changing language too drastically, but maybe if societies get less sexist, languages will follow.

  31. November 2, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Helen mentioned “freshers”… that’s how we referred in India too, I guess British English at work there. But it works very well. In Bangla, a South Asian language, the three-gender stricture of Sanskrit (compare to German) — a classical language that widely influences languages on the subcontinent — or the two-gender paradigm of Hindi etc., has got smoothed out, almost. Hence, chair, table, glass, sun etc. usually do not have genders, unless we are talking poetic licenses. “H/she” pronouns are represented by one pronoun. For non-human or inanimates, there’s a pronoun that works like a classifier that combines demonstrative pronoun+number. While I said ‘almost’ in Bangla, several other SA languages continue to strive for ‘purity’ and loyalty to Sanskrit with gender manifestations for each native or borrowed lexical item. … this discussion can perhaps generate some thinking in that part, so will cross-post it.

  32. November 2, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    I know this is a bit of a thread derailment, but Helen and Katherine, people in America will be completely confused by the word “freshers.” I recently studied abroad in England and couldn’t stop giggling at the word. I don’t understand how people can use it with a straight face. =)

    “Frosh” is a good gender-neutral American term for “freshman/men,” but definitely slangy and not to be used in an essay or paper (newspaper article would be okay, though).

  33. Bach-us
    November 2, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    I can’t say “frosh” without feeling ridiculous, so I just say “first-year student” or “In my (her/his/whatever) first year at …”

  34. November 3, 2008 at 6:16 am

    The very gendered nature of Spanish is, I find, a big problem even for us native speakers. I do a lot of non-gendering as much as I can, but in Spanish it’s much more normal to say “man” to mean “humankind”.

    My problem is a bit more personal though. As a trans girl, I just came out to my parents and it’s difficult to just hold a conversation. Because if I want to say “I am tired”, the adjective “tired” is gendered. I don’t want to say it in the masculine form as that’s not how I identify. On the other hand, I don’t want to use the feminine because my parents are still coming to terms with it. So I have to do some grammar gymnastics such as “I have a lot of tiredness”, which sounds lame :(

    I think it’s a good idea, though, to talk about the implications of this for languages like Spanish, French and Italian.

  35. Laura
    November 3, 2008 at 9:45 am

    This sounds like a really good opportunity for the kind of discussion that makes really good learning happen – not only the learning you need to happen for this test (they use the correct gender article when writing in Spanish), but also metacognitive awareness (their knowledge of their own thought processes) and some perspective on sociopolitical issues around gender (although this will provide the context for the discussion, I suggest you make this the least of its emphases. It’s a heated topic, and planting the germ of the idea is enough in this context!).
    One way you could do this would be to put up a list of the words you see them commonly mis-gendering. Try to choose some words that have strong gendered connotations in English (for example, ones you mentioned like “Government”). Ask them to write down the correct article in Spanish silently. Then go through the class and ask them to raise their hands to show which article they chose. After a quick 5 minutes with dictionaries, have them compare the majority of the class’ responses for each item to the correct article.
    This is when you hand it over to your students. What patterns do they see? Depending on how old your students are and how experienced they are with this kind of discussion, you might want to provide more structured questions to guide this discussion. In English, what gender do we associate these words with? Why? Is there anything “innate” about these words that makes them male/female to English speakers? What influence might it have on their behavior, if any, that they automatically think of these words as male/female? Does it suggest anything different about Spanish language/culture that the article associated with the words is the opposite gender than English connotations?
    Make sure that, by the end of class, you’ve brought it back to why they’re studying this in SPANISH class. You don’t want them feeling like you’ve created a political soapbox for no reason. You are doing this so that they use the language correctly (which will be of great use to them on this test!). By pointing out some ways of thinking that are causing them to make mistakes, you can make this process conscious and help them avoid it.
    It’s awesome that you’ve recognized this as such a great teaching opportunity, but also that you’re being cautious about how you approach it.
    (Apologies if this comes up randomly bold, I’m not sure what’s up with this formatting).

  36. Laura
    November 3, 2008 at 9:50 am

    WOW. I completely missed that you were teaching this IN SPAIN. I’m surprised – when I was learning German I was told that the correct articles, which were so hard for us to master, just came naturally to native German speakers! I feel so lied to.
    This obviously makes the discussion you’ll need to have slightly different. Are they bi-lingual? If many of them are fluent in a language other than Spanish that also uses gendered articles, you could have them compare the gender of different words with strong gender connotations in different languages.
    Good luck! What an interesting situation.

  37. mael
    November 3, 2008 at 10:14 am

    Lauren O,

    I use the word “freshies/freshers” all the time; no one has ever seemed confused and I’m in Boston. In fact, I had no idea that it was only a British term.

    My first language is Italian, though I started learning English when I was very little, and this is quite the problem. Gendered language does not necessarily make a modern logical sense, but it developed very organically, and purposefully changing genders for nouns is just stilted and ineffective. Italy has been developing female (or male) words for previously rigidly gendered professions, but they need to be integrated into the language in ways that are not forced, or no one will use them. They sound silly enough as it is, to a native speaker. La ministra for il ministro (minister, as in prime minister), for example, sounds very much like la minestra, which means soup, and beyond that it just sounds like a grammatical error. It’ll take time.

  38. Ron O.
    November 3, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Demonstrating the difference will help a few. Learning French in High schools, the teacher sometimes commented that the language in the textbook was a little old fashioned. I imaging it is that way in your textbooks. Find a couple newspaper and/or magazine articles as good example of contemporary writing. That way it’s not so much your opinion, but “this is the standard now.”

  39. Ron O.
    November 3, 2008 at 11:43 am

    “Learning French in High School,…” not schools. I only went to one.

  40. quiteneil
    November 3, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    What Helen said. Sorry to derail, but “freshpeople” is incredibly awkward. “Fresher” is the word used in the UK now, and that works perfectly well, and better than” freshman/men” in some cases.

    Sorry to derail again, but perhaps a less awkward construction is “first-years.” I go to a women’s college and I’ve never been referred to as a freshman, we’re all called first years.

    It just goes back to the fact that language is malleable and we should try to find constructions that aren’t awkward and gendered, because it is possible.

  41. Bitter Scribe
    November 3, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Froufrou: That’s fascinating. I was taught, many years ago, that the learned professions like docteur, avocat (lawyer) or professeur (teacher) are invariably male in gender, even if you’re referring to a woman. Nice to know a little progress is being made.

    One thing I found interesting is that victime is always feminine, even when you’re referring to a man.

  42. quiteneil
    November 3, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Sorry, i don’t know how everything I wrote turned into a blockquote.

  43. SoE
    November 3, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    @Laura: Maybe I overlooked something but from a native German point of view the “correct genders” of things actually do come naturally. New words are assigned a gender with usually little debate because everybody has the same feeling what is right. So a computer is der Computer (male) while a laptop is das Laptop (neuter).

    And yes, it’s hard to not use gendered pronouns if you are used to them. Many Germans will refer to cats with “she is so cute” but to dogs “he is so cute”. Nevertheless I don’t think it’s particularly feminist to point out their mistakes, especially to aspiring college students. Many non-native speakers tend to translate their words into English while using their native grammar: e.g. sentence stuctures or gendered pronouns. So if a Spanish speaker talks to a Chinese one using lots of he and she they might end up having a hard time since Chinese speech doesn’t differentiate between he, she and it.

    Last but not least: While there are many discussions about the proper way to address men and women in German there’s a gender-neutral one for students, Studierende, and it’s used more and more. But there are still many other words out there in need of an overhaul ^^

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